Post-Glacial Gallery

The Yorkshire Dales after the end of the last Ice Age

Brown bears occupy the Yorkshire Dales

Between 25,000 and 17,000 years ago, the northern hemisphere was again engulfed by glaciers and it wasn’t until 14,700 years ago that things suddenly warmed up, bringing life once more to areas that had been a cold, polar desert for thousands of years. This time, the species that came were quite different. Brown bears and wolves were the first to arrive, followed by humans about 14,500 years ago. By this time, it would have already been a rich and diverse ecosystem to support these top predators. Victoria Cave is full of the bones of brown bears who died there during hibernation, and were later chewed and scavenged by wolves.

Brown Bear skull

14,600 years old

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Brown Bear skull

This skull of a 12-14 year old female brown bear has been radiocarbon dated to around 14,600 years ago, just after the last Ice Age. It’s the only adult female bear known to have hibernated and died in the cave, which was mostly used by adult males and juveniles, and she may have died from starvation soon after giving birth, as she is found along with bones from a new born cub. The skull is one of the first objects indicating that the area had been resettled, shortly followed by cutmarked horse bone and a carved javelin point which provide the first evidence that humans returned to the north of England just a century or so later. When they first arrived, they would have seen bear bones scattered all over the cave floor.

This artefact is archived at the Tot Lord Collection in Yorkshire.

The first people to arrive in the Yorkshire Dales after the end of the last Ice Age were part of a culture archaeologists call the Final Magdalenian. These people specialized in hunting wild horses, and they have left us a legacy of cave art that stretches from southwest France to Creswell Crags in the English midlands.Inside Victoria Cave, archaeologists found a wild horse bone which had been butchered using a stone tool, and a lance point carved from reindeer antler. Radiocarbon dating tells us that both of these objects are 14,500 years old, and together they provide the earliest evidence we have to date showing that Magdalenian hunters had finally made it to the north of England.

Brown Bear Pelvis

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Brown Bear Pelvis

Pelvic bone from brown bear (Ursus arctos) found in chamber D, Victoria Cave. It is currently archived in the Tot Lord collection in Yorkshire.

The radiocarbon dated objects from Victoria Cave show that these Ice Age hunters visited the Yorkshire Dales repeatedly between 14,500 and 12,800 years ago, but there is no evidence to suggest that they ever settled permanently in the landscape. Shortly after 12,800 years ago, the climate suddenly got colder and people and brown bears vanish from the cave record for the next thousand or so years. Sadly, we do not know if the Ice Age hunter-gatherers of Victoria Cave managed to migrate south, or whether they simply perished with the cold.

Brown Bear Skull

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Brown Bear Skull

Cranium of Brown bear (Ursus arctos) found in Chamber D, Victoria cave. It is currently archived in the Tot Lord collection in Yorkshire.